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Real art can take a number of forms – my art is spiritual

Real art can take a number of forms, with some artists saying their best pieces come from deep inside them, inspiring them to create, with the medium becoming virtually secondary to the creation. NDUTA WAWERU met such an artist, renowned Swiss painter SANDRO GODEL

Artists transcending into a whole new level when creating their work is a much talked about phenomena. Aspects of spirituality and mysticism find their way into their processes and eventually the final work.

Sandro Godel is one such artist; things beyond this world inspire his content and process. Godel, a Swiss artist who was in Nairobi in March, was inspired to get into art in his quest to find a unique way to express himself. Born in 1961 in Estavayer-le-Lac, a small medieval town in Switzerland, he started off in the family business: wooden art. Since he was the first-born, his family thought he would one day take over the business.

However, he had this passion for art that he could not ignore. His ideal life was seen as contemptible, especially in a world where art was still considered worthless. He got a defender in his mother, who supported him when he decided to become a full-time artist.

But, the fight for his passion was not just restricted to his family. In the 1970s, Switzerland required all young men to enroll in military service, failure to which they would be jailed. Godel was one of the young men who ended up in jail for refusing to be enlisted. He spent six months behind bars, where he not only met other artists, but also gained confidence in himself and his art. It is still a sore topic for him, all these years later.


Despite such a beginning, Godel’s art has become stronger and popular over the years. It took him more than 20 years to make a global mark, something that brought him to Africa and Kenya for the first time. His mission: to get inspiration from the people, culture and nature that he has heard about for years.

With the Swiss Ambassador Ralf Heckner at the ambassadorial residence during his stay in Nairobi. Photo/EUSTACE MAINA

For three weeks, he was based at the Swiss Ambassador’s residence in Nairobi, where he created more than 200 paintings, all done at night, a time, he believes, his ego dies and the spiritual and more ethereal part of him awakens, to enable him come up with his pieces.

His body of work creates an illuminating difference between dark and light, associated with le cleir obscure or Chiaroscuro movement, where contrasts between light and dark are used to affect the whole composition.

Godel’s work in Nairobi captures the essence of the city and it’s people. He used soil from the ambassador’s residence to prepare the canvases, on which he painted images of people and places he encountered. Looking at the images, it is obvious they are authentically Kenyan- complete to the materials used.

Many artists who visit the country will probably have a painting of an animal or two in their body of work, but not Godel. Inspired by Zen Buddhism, he believes people are on another level of spirituality, and reflect this in ways animals cannot, thus his focus on people in his latest works.


Besides the tempera, a technique where artists mix fast-drying pigment and a binder, Godel also employs gouache, using opaque paint on which to paint other images.

The self-taught artist looks up to many other creators including Italian painter Caravaggio, Picasso and Rembrandt among others.

“Artists are inspired by other artists; their work is not to copy these artists, but to keep the inspiration,” he says, adding that it is one of the quintessential part of art, and that it feeds into the universality of art and humanity as proven by the fact that some of the most famous European artists were inspired by art from Africa.

And what of his experience of the continent? “Africa is interesting in what Africa is, not what Africa says,” he offers, adding that the continent does not have to be or prove to be anything to others; it just exists.

Godel adds that it is in Nairobi that the essence of interconnection of people became obvious to him. He says Kenyans are kinder and even happier than in many places in Europe, where a cloud of sadness and sorrow – created by the natives themselves – seem to hover.

After his brief stay in Nairobi, Godel is back home, where he hopes to create a book on the art in the city, and hold an exhibition to showcase his latest body of work.

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